By Sondra L. Shapiro
Qis, xi, zax, suq are just a handful of words that Scrabble players’ covet in terms of high point scoring potential.
For me, the game conjures up childhood memories of my parents and their friends sitting around our kitchen table, the clicking of tiles and light-hearted arguments and challenges over what constitutes a “legal” word.
On long summer days at Revere Beach, all of us kids knew that once the Scrabble board came out, we had to make ourselves scarce — to intrude with requests for snacks or tattle-telling would be met with severe reproach. So off we went to hunt shells, swim and build sand castles, leaving the adults to what we kids thought of as a boring pursuit. They would sit for hours, oblivious to the sun, sand, ocean and rambunctious kids. What a waste of a great day we thought.
I didn’t understand the attraction or the utter quiet among the players, the almost neurotic addiction to the board until I began playing an online version decades later on my iPhone. And, so my lament.
My beloved game has fallen victim to kid-targeted marketing. Or so I assume. It’s a well-known fact that we boomers are in age denial. We have laid claim to our kids clothes, cars, books and movies.
Though I readily own up to reading the Hunger Games and Harry Potter, there is one activity that is all adult — Scrabble. From my parents’ generation to the present, this is a game loved for its simplicity in style and concept. In our youth oriented culture, it is a rare treat to have something that is just for us adults, and have us em-brace it even though there is nothing kid about it.
Stylistically, the online board pretty much replicated the original board — right down to its small, wood-colored letter tiles and uninspiring board colors representing premium squares worth double and triple word or letter points. With small tweaks to the board version over the years, there was still no mistaking this online game for anything but the original board version of my youth — even the board’s square shape and 15-by-15 grid of cells was replicated on the screen. Nothing there to distract the player from working the puzzle to complete a high scoring word.
Sure, there have been some additions to the online version not offered in the original game, but none of them tampered with the integrity of the original.
Before the ravaging of the online game, I would bask in a Zen-like state of quiet contemplation, all my focus on the task at hand. Like my parents, I would resent any interruption. Amid the fast-paced hours of each day, I would find some quiet moments to play a word. Often I would have four games going at one time, each one could last a few hours or a few days.
For a few moments first thing in the morning, I would check to see if anyone had played a turn during the night. The game also provided a welcome diversion while waiting in a doctor’s office or during television commercials. Shamefully, I also had a very bad habit of sneaking a peak at the board during dinner or when out with friends.
Then there were the marathon sessions during rainy weekend afternoons or, very, very late into the night. With the only illumination from a tiny flashlight, I could play an entire game. My poor husband once woke up during one of these sessions, thinking it was daylight. I had accidently moved my flashlight straight into his eyes when I became excited over scoring a bingo (slang for a word using all 7 letters, worth an extra 50 points). Pure blurry-eyed bliss. For me, at least.
Most people who play this game do so because it is not fast-paced or adorned with the flashy features often coveted by younger folks.
Like professional tennis or golf, a strict code of etiquette was built into the online version. If a person was rude enough to abandon a game for days at a time, the opposing player was allowed to nudge them twice over a period of a couple of days, then force them to forfeit the game. If a player was matched up with someone not at his or her level, there was an option of deleting the game at the third turn without penalty.
This all worked so nicely for everyone. Until a few weeks ago. I opened my game one morning and experienced horror, shock and deep disappointment as I was greeted with a totally revamped, unrecognizable, juvenile nightmare, complete with bright colors, funky animation and ridiculous dialogue boxes with insipid phrases such as “ouch,” “bogus,” “awesome” or “sheesh,” next to wins and losses.
The ability to delete or nudge opponents is gone. There is little incentive for players to finish what they have started, leaving my home page cluttered with unfinished games. My beloved game is no longer fit for adults, but more suitable for pre-teens.
I wonder, whose idea was it to mess with it?
Ultimately, I assume game designers are kids themselves, with no idea what adults want. After all, my generation is usually chasing after youth while pushing away anything that might make us feel old, so I guess that’s a message that might be conveyed to the company that offers the online edition.
After my occasional delving into the flash and fast-paced lifestyle of youth, the revamping of a beloved, old game has made me face the loss of an opportunity to practice and appreciate — civility, quiet contemplation, good manners, mind exercise and modesty — skills we usually develop with age.
Sadly, I have accepted I will never reach my dream of using the word QUIZZIFY, placed across two-triple word squares with letters strategically placed on high scoring tiles to produce a 419 point score.
Sondra Shapiro is the executive editor of the Fifty Plus Advocate. Email her at email@example.com. And follow her online at www.facebook.com/fiftyplusadvocate, www.twitter.com/shapiro50plusor www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.